President Jacob Zuma’s political career will again come under the spotlight when the ANC national executive committee (NEC) meets on Friday to discuss calls by its alliance partners for him to step down.
ANC insiders said this week anti-Zuma supporters would push hard to convince him to step down.
Although Zuma’s dominant faction has successfully defended him in the past, there’s no doubt that his grip on power has weakened over the past few months.
Out of the 106 NEC members, 54 are now against Zuma, according to the Mail & Guardian’s analysis. Those who have turned against the ANC president include his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC treasurer Zweli Mkhize, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, former public services minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, former tourism minister Derek Hanekom and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
Zuma will also face criticism when allegations of state capture by the Gupta family are raised at the meeting at the Saint George Hotel near Pretoria.
The Western Cape ANC said on Thursday it would call for all those implicated in the former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report, including Zuma, Co-operative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen, Minerals Minister Mosebenzi Zwane and Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe to appear before the party’s integrity commission.
NEC insiders explained that, as in president Thabo Mbeki’s case, Zuma could be asked to resign.
Mbeki resigned as president of the country in 2008 after the NEC threatened to recall him.
The ANC took a resolution in 2007 that the president of the party should become the president of the country. This resolution can only be changed at the national conference of the party.
State capture has again been in the headlines in recent weeks following the South African Council of Churches’ release of its unburdening report, which revealed damning testimony from current and former government employees on how the state has been captured by private individuals.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the issue of the ANC recalling Zuma was not on the NEC meeting’s agenda, but it would discuss calls by labour federation Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) for Zuma to step down. Kodwa said it was unprecedented for an ANC president to be banned from addressing workers.
“We can’t ignore developments [such as] the May Day rally. This is the first NEC since that meeting. The NWC [national working committee] did reflect on that. The issue of May Day rally will arise through the NWC report. The recent announcement by Cosatu [to exclude Zuma] will also be discussed in that context. The first issue is that alliance relations are at an all-time low. There is no dispute about that,” he said.
Although there had been disagreements in the alliance, including on policy and the centre of power being shifted to the government, there was never a time when the ANC was barred from addressing workers, Kodwa said.
Senior ANC leaders interviewed this week differed over whether Zuma should step down now.
The Eastern Cape plans to take its cue from the NWC’s report to the meeting about Zuma’s leadership and calls for him to step down.
“The ANC has got a method of doing things; we don’t just do things because people are shouting. We process issues. At the NEC, we receive reports from NWC. Those current affairs are being tested on a weekly basis,” Eastern Cape secretary Oscar Mabuyane said.
“When the NWC report is tabled, it will form the basis of our contribution to the discussion.”
He added it was regrettable that the ANC’s alliance partners had joined opposition parties in calling for Zuma to resign, but warned that the ANC could not ignore public sentiment.
‘Some of those unfortunate calls happen at a point when we should be able to close ranks and be more inward-looking. But we can’t adopt the ostrich approach — faced with challenges we put our heads in the sand. When the NEC meets, South Africa expects something quite inspiring. The ANC must aspire to inspire before it expires,” Mabuyane said.
The Western Cape ANC did not want to pre-empt the content of the discussions and said anything could happen. Acting chairperson Khaya Magaxa said the NEC usually discussed the most recent developments.
“Any developments can be discussed and there are a lot of developments. There is no debate that is closed in the NEC. The meeting will assess the state [of the ANC]. The president will give his political overview and we will take it there.”
The ANC’s Limpopo leaders believes the discussion on calls for Zuma to vacate office should not be allowed at all.
“It was discussed in the previous NEC meeting and it was done. There is no need to reopen it. I don’t think we should be directed by the opposition. We must get a report from our deployees of the ANC and discuss it,” Limpopo ANC secretary Knox Seabi said. The ANC should focus on uniting its structures before its conference, and “at the right time, when the organisation is stable, we can make changes” .
Zuma ally Lindiwe Zulu said the discussion about Zuma stepping down had already been resolved.
“They [those who are calling for Zuma’s removal] have done that before. It is not new. Is [it] on the agenda? He must be removed? What for? The ANC has gone through a lot of challenges. We have been through this [before].
“We are preparing for the policy conference and the national conference. The president will step down in December. He should continue until 2019. No one can decide but the ANC.”
Another Zuma confidant, ANC KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Sihle Zikalala, did not believe Zuma’s recall was up for discussion.
“I think the SG [secretary general] could tell us if is on the agenda. We will talk to the matter that is on the table,” Zikalala said.
Asked if the ANC would discuss Cosatu’s and the SACP’s call for Zuma to step down, Mantashe said: “We will not discuss it as an item.”
He also said recalling Zuma was not on the agenda — “Don’t structure the agenda [for the ANC NEC].”
SACP deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila said the ANC should have recalled Zuma a long time ago.
“He can’t commit all these gross errors and they do nothing. It’s a good opportunity to show our commitment to deal with the problems we face,” he said.
Mapaila said NEC members shouldn’t fear raising a motion to have Zuma recalled. “They should raise this matter openly and freely, without any fear. The ANC can’t leave the discussion when there is absolute rejection of an ANC president,” he said.
“Unless the NEC itself has accepted that he [Zuma] is superior to them, then our revolution is damned,” Mapaila added.
The ANC’s Military Veterans Association, in its national executive committee meeting two weeks ago, reiterated its unconditional support for Zuma, its leader, Kebby Maphatsoe, said.
“The president of the ANC is the president of the republic. We know that this is just about factional battles; it has nothing to with President Jacob Zuma. It is a foreign agenda that is being pushed to an extent that it has infiltrated the ANC so it can implode from within.”
He said the association was aware of members who wanted to raise the motion but was confident that it would not succeed.
“Two NEC meetings have discussed this and it was explained thoroughly. We even went to the branches of the ANC and they told us it is only them who can remove the president of the ANC, not the NEC. Our constitution is very clear that the president of the ANC shall be the president of the country,” he said.
The Free State ANC spokesperson, Thabo Meeko, took the same line.